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Exodus Issues Non-Committal Response To California Ex-Gay Bill

Jim Burroway

June 5th, 2012

In response to questions from the media about California’s proposed SB 1172, which would regulate the practice of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) among licensed professionals and bar providing such therapies to minors, Exodus International has issued the following position statement:

Exodus International supports an individual’s right to self-determine as they address their personal struggles related to faith, sexuality and sexual expression. As an organization, we do not subscribe to therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal. Our ministry’s objective is to equip the Church to become the primary place where people of faith seek support, refuge and discipleship as they make the decision to live according to Christian principles.

We believe in a “gospel-centric” view, meaning that all people, regardless of individual life struggles, can experience freedom over the power of sin through a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, a commitment to scripture, and by being a part of a vibrant, transparent and relational community of believers found in the local church. Exodus is partnered with more than 260 churches and support-based ministries who serve individuals and families experiencing a conflict between their faith and sexuality. [Emphasis in the original.]

The closest Exodus comes to opposing the bill is in mimicking the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s formulation that Exodus “supports an individual’s right to self-determine” — a coded phrase which places the onus on determining the appropriateness of SOCE on the patient rather than the licensed therapists who should know better. Those who haven’t been closely following NARTH may not see that connection. But even for those of us who do, it appears that Exodus is happy to break that connection in the second sentence, where they distance themselves from “therapies that make changing sexual orientation a main focus or goal.” So if Exodus intends to oppose S.B. 1172, this statement is a strange way to go about it.

[Update: Exodus president Alan Chambers has clarified that the language about "an individual’s right to self-determine" was taken from the APA, not NARTH. For more information on what that means, read this update.]

Exodus appears to have taken the position of not taking a position on S.B. 1172. This, I think, again breaks new ground for a couple of reasons. First, Exodus provides a fairly extensive list online of professional counselors who, if I’m not mistaken, probably do provide therapies in which changing sexual orientation as “a main focus or goal.” I recognize two names immediately: Phillip Sutton, who on this outdated page is listed as NARTH’s “President-elect” (NARTH’s actual president following the tenure of Julie Hamilton is Christopher Rosik), is one that I’m sure hasn’t abandoned the idea of change for change’s sake. Another counselor, Robert Brennan of San Francisco presented a workshop for parents of gay kids at the Exodus Freedom Conference in 2007. Maybe his views have changed since then, but when I attended that workshop, he was very reassuring to those parents about the likelihood for change in sexual orientation.

It seems that this is still a contradiction that Exodus has not fully worked out, but Exodus may not see it that way because it’s not a big contradiction to begin with. Exodus’s listing of licensed therapists is only twenty-four names long, less than ten percent of their “260 churches and support-based ministries. And they’ve already removed books on reparative therapy (a particular form of a broad array of ex-gay therapies), which is NARTH’s mainstay. Those facts, combined with this statement, suggests that Exodus don’t appear to be much interested in preserving their counselors’ career paths in the ex-gay movement. Increasingly, they are looking more and more like a vestigial organ, like an appendix or the tailbone that’s still a part of the body but which no longer serves a purpose. This statement also appears to portend a wider rift between NARTH and Exodus.

But the second significance of this statement, as I see it, is this: as I noted before, California’s S.B. 1172, applies only to licensed therapists, not religious ministries. And so when asked to comment on S.B. 1172, Exodus sidesteps the question altogether and shifts the focus toward churches and ministries, not licensed therapists and counselors — and not even its own licensed therapists and counselors. It wasn’t that long ago when Exodus relished jumping into a large number of public policy issues. But now, when asked to weigh in on public policy which relates to their own home turf, Exodus demurs. In reading between the lines ,they are effectively say that they don’t care one way or another about s.B. 1172 because it doesn’t affect them. They posit that people don’t exercise their “right of self-determination” on matters of religious beliefs and practices in in the offices of licensed therapists and counselors, but in churches and associated ministries. Which, I think, is as it should be. If someone wants to live according to their religious principles, then it is at church (or the synagogue or mosque) where those discussions should take place, not at a doctor’s office. After all, I don’t think very many psychologists provide intensive therapies to help flagging Orthodox Jewish patients keep a kosher home.

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